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Oakland A’s acquire reliever Josh Lucas from Cardinals

He made his MLB debut last year, and joins the A’s 40-man roster.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s acquired minor league reliever Josh Lucas from the Cardinals on Saturday, the team announced. In exchange, St. Louis received pitching prospect Casey Meisner. Lucas takes the open spot on the 40-man roster and was immediately optioned to Triple-A Nashville, so no other corresponding moves were required.

Lucas made his MLB debut for the Cardinals last year after a long journey through the minors. The right-hander was drafted all the way back in 2010 (21st round), as a 19-year-old out of junior college. It took him until 2014 to find his groove, but over the last four years he’s posted a 2.57 ERA and 2.84 FIP during a steady rise up the system. He spent last season in Triple-A at age 26 and struck out more than a batter per inning, then held his own in five outings in the bigs. He wrapped up the year with a trip to the Arizona Fall League.

Lucas, 2017 AAA: 3.15 ERA, 60 ip, 68 Ks, 12 BB, 3 HR, 2.85 FIP
Lucas, 2017 MLB: 3.68 ERA, 7⅓ ip, 7 Ks, 4 BB, 2 HR, 6.84 FIP
Lucas, 2017 AFL: 5.25 ERA, 12 ip, 13 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HR

In terms of stuff, Brooks Baseball has Lucas working mostly with a sinker (93 mph) and a slider (85 mph), based on his brief MLB time last summer. Here’s an eyeball report from Viva El Birdos (also see video at bottom):

[Lucas] features a tremendous slurvy breaking ball from a three-quarter arm slot that, coming from his 6’6” frame, puts one in mind a bit of former Yankee setup man Jeff Nelson. The contact has been a bit loud for Lucas this season, but when it comes to generating empty swings and not handing out free passes, he’s been about as good as it gets.

On the other side of the deal, the A’s parted ways with an even taller but lower-level pitching prospect in Casey Meisner. The right-hander was originally acquired in a 2015 deadline trade for reliever Tyler Clippard, and now they’ve flipped him for a new reliever three years later. Meisner reached as high as Double-A last season and will pitch at the young age of 23 this summer, but over time his slow progress caused him to fall from the Top 10 of our Community Prospect List down to the mid-20s (No. 23 this winter).

The A’s are carrying an eight-man bullpen this year, and their Triple-A depth now includes three players on the 40-man roster: Lucas, Lou Trivino, and Ryan Dull (currently on DL). Dull has the most experience but is out of action at the moment, and Trivino is yet to appear in the bigs. There’s also swingman Chris Bassitt, wherever he eventually fits in. Other non-roster options with MLB experience include Raul Alcantara, Simon Castro, Bobby Wahl, and J.B. Wendelken. For his part, Lucas had a dominant spring in which he tossed 11⅓ scoreless innings with 12 Ks, 2 BB, and 4 hits, leading to surprise that he was DFA’d in the first place.

Hot takes

I don’t have strong feelings on this one, but it seems like a perfectly good pickup. Lucas is the kind of promising arm who’s worth nabbing off waivers when you have an extra roster spot available, and he helps the immediate bullpen depth — we all know how quickly that can disappear and leave us sifting through the scrap heap. I’m happy with the current pen for now, and I like some of the other AA/AAA relief prospects, but there wasn’t a healthy, fully MLB-ready arm I liked waiting next in line on the roster and now there is.

It’s a little odd to see the A’s continue to deal from their depth of SP prospects, though. They already sent away Heath Fillmyer to bolster the pen (for Ryan Buchter) and now another one is gone, on top of losing A.J. Puk for the year and Grant Holmes for an extended period due to injuries. I had soured on Meisner so I’m not super worried about this specific departure, but the overall quantity is dropping and every lost lotto ticket lowers the odds of the farm helping in the near future. James Naile, Dustin Hurlbutt, and Corey Walter are now some of the best names remaining with upper minors experience, though there’s a whole new wave coming up quickly behind them (Shore, Kaprielian, Jefferies, Sawyer, etc.).

Bottom line, Lucas is more likely to make it at all, while Meisner has the higher ceiling because starting is still a possibility. There’s probably a better chance that the A’s found their next solid relief pickup than that they’ll regret what they gave up.